With Justin Wilcox and Peter Sirmon Departure: Derek Dooley Is Finished

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Today news broke that Justin Wilcox and Peter Sirmon, the two stars of the UT coaching staff, are departing for Washington. Last year Justin Wilcox turned down the defensive coordinator job at Texas. This year he leaves for a vastly inferior job in Washington. This speaks volumes to the state of the UT program, coaches are bailing because they know Dooley is done. This means that Dooley has lost four coaches this offseason. It’s not just players like DeAnthony Arnett who are attempting to flee Rocky Top, it’s coaches too.

Unfortunately for Dooley, he can’t restrict where his coaches go, just his players.

The reason why everyone wants out of Knoxville? Derek Dooley isn’t liked by his coaches or players. Combine that with a failure to win and it’s time to officially put down the Dool-Aid and cut the cord now. The reason? What’s the point in hiring all these new coaches — who are going to demand substantial salary buyouts to come here for a year — when Dooley is a lameduck head coach?

If you hire a decent coach next year he’s going to want to bring in his own staff which means you’re going to be on the hook for millions in additional buyouts for the guys you’re hiring on short notice.

The only real Dooley savior at this point would be John Chavis. Could Dooley and new athletic director Dave Hart throw enough money at Chavis to persuade him to leave LSU? I’m talking enough money to make Chavis the highest paid coordinator in the country. It’s doubtful Chavis would return given that LSU’s defense should be even better in 2012, but maybe you can play upon his loyalty to return to Tennessee. Again, I think that’s doubtful given that Chavis loves working with Les Miles and that he still bears scars from the way Tennessee fired Fulmer. 

Lacking the Chavis band-aid, it’s time to deploy the Clay Travis dumptruck theory.

For those of you who haven’t been reading OKTC or listening to 3HL, the Clay Travis dumptruck theory is simple, I’m filling up a dump truck of cash and driving around the country until a top quality coach returns with me to Knoxville. (I’d clean house right after signing day. Yes, it’s a bit dirty, but it’s only a month away too.)

(By the way, when I google image searched Dool-Aid, a term I coined, this guy made a graphic in happier times. Nice work.)

I’m not worried about being rejected or the ‘message” that this sends. I will hold a press conference in the coach’s front lawn with a pile of cash behind me.

The message is simple: Tennessee will hire the top coach in the country and we’ll pay top dollar to do it.

The days of Volunteer tiddly-wink hires need to be over. No more convincing ourselves that a coach with a losing record in the WAC is going to ever beat Nick Saban. Hell, we’ve already seen that a coach with a losing record from the WAC can’t even consistently beat Kentucky. Spend big money on a coach and win or you end up losing that money you saved via poor attendance.

The single most important expense for any athletic program is the head coach.


It’s time to deploy the dump truck, fill it with $5 million a year and do what only a handful of programs can do, pay big money for a big time coach to take over in Knoxville.

Ultimately, just about everything in life comes down to money.

Here’s my coaching hot board (note: I have eliminated guys I would like to have whose contracts clearly don’t allow it or whose programs are loaded with cash and would clearly match any offer. I’m looking at you Bobby Petrino — buyout — and Chip Kelly — Nike money. I’ve also eliminated guys I’ve been told will never coach in college, that means you Jon Gruden and Jeff Fisher).

Here’s my current list if a hire was made the day after signing day. Every single one of these guys would crush Derek Dooley’s performance:

1. Chris Petersen

I know, I know, he doesn’t want to leave Boise State. So be it. Make him say no in person with a $5 million a year offer.

But what if he says no?

Big deal. I publicize it to the entire country: Tennessee offered Chris Petersen more money than any head football coach makes in the entire country.

The message that an offer like this sends is clear, it’s a new era at Tennessee, the program will pay whatever it takes to win.

2. Gary Patterson

Would he leave TCU now that the Horned Frogs are joining the Big 12? I have no idea.

But, again, I have no issue with publicly offering him the job.

See, getting rejected by top coaching candidates isn’t a bad thing, it’s like getting rejected by the hottest chicks at the bar. If you don’t ask you can’t score.

3. Peyton Manning

I would publicly offer the head coaching job to Peyton Manning in the event he doesn’t want to take the health risk of returning to the NFL.

In fact, I’d even put Manning at the top of this list if it was my call.

Give him the offense and persuade John Chavis to come back and take over the defense under another Tennessee grad head coach.

Are you telling me that Manning wouldn’t have the top quarterbacks in the country every year? Can you imagine what a home visit from Peyton Manning would be like?

This is every Tennessee fan’s secret dream, that one day Peyton Manning will return to Knoxville and take back over the Vol football program. His injury may have just accelerated the timetable.

I’d give him the job if he wanted it.

4. Pete Carroll

This might be better for 2012, but Carroll is close to realizing that he can’t get it done at the NFL. 

After two seasons at Seattle he’s notched a sub .500 record. 

Things don’t look much better for 2012. 

If you played to Carroll’s ego and offered him $5 million a year could you get him to jump back to college?

What’s the harm in asking?  

5. Charlie Strong

He’s proven everything he needs to about whether he can be a successful coach at a BCS level.

Taking over a mess at Louisville, he’ll have the Cardinals poised to contend for the BCS next season.

He can run a top SEC defense, he’s recruited all over the South, there is zero doubt at this point that he would do well at Tennessee.


Plus, don’t you know he’d love the chance to take over a top program in the SEC as Louisville is relegated to an increasingly mediocre Big East?

6. James Franklin

Franklin will rack up a top 25 recruiting class at Vandy this year.

He’s already beating out Tennessee for some recruits.

Imagine what he could do with the largest recruiting budget in the country.

Plus, he’s exactly what Tennessee needs, someone who will intelligently promote the program and rally the troops. Basically, Franklin is Vandy’s Bruce Pearl. For all his intelligence, Dooley is a ghost when it comes to developing Vol fan excitement. That’s why there are already 30,000 no-shows in Neyland. When you get down to it, college football is entertainment. Franklin would pay for himself millions of times over.

7. Dan Mullen

I know his star has dimmed a bit since last season, but Mullen knows he can’t win really big in Starkville. Not with Nick Saban, Les Miles, and Bobby Petrino all patrolling the sidelines at better programs.

Hell, State is the sixth best job in the SEC West.

But look at the SEC East right now. Which coach do you feel comfortable will still be strong in three years? Will Spurrier still be there? Franklin might leave. Muschamp and Joker are unproven, Richt was on the hot seat last year.

As cocky as Mullen is he has to look at the SEC East and think that success can be grabbed there in a heartbeat.

8. Manny Diaz 

Diaz, aka the defensive wunderkid from MTSU, Mississippi State, and Texas, has immediately arrived everywhere and paid dividends.

Given that he’s been successful on his own merits everywhere, I’m inclined to rank him a bit higher than Kirby Smart.

This is another enthusiastic guy who would sell the program in all the right ways.

I love Diaz and think he’d win big in the SEC. Of course, he may be thinking that he’s got the Texas job in a few years when Mack Brown retires.

9. Kirby Smart

Reports are that Dave Hart already loves him based on their relationship at Alabama.

Given that he makes less than a million a year, he’d come to Tennessee in a heartbeat.

But my concern here is simple — the Nick Saban coaching tree hasn’t borne much fruit. Given that the Vols took Dooley on Saban’s advice, how much of Smart’s success is directly attributable

10. Jim Tressel

Why not?

That five year show cause is actually just a five week show cause according to published reports. That is, Tressel can’t coach or recruit for the first five weeks. Big deal, name Trooper Taylor offensive coordinator and let him recruit in the meantime.

It’s a risky move, but the guy won big at Ohio State, he’d probably win big at Tennessee too.

Here are my ten top candidates.

Rank your own and give me feedback.

After all, the dumptruck theory is predicated on Volunteer fan consensus. We’re the ones ultimately paying the salary so we’re the ones who should be happy. And for anyone who feels sorry for Derek Dooley? Please. If he was fired today he’d make $11 million in salary and buyouts for just two years work at Tennessee.

He should have to pay Tennessee $11 million for losing to Kentucky with a wide receiver at quarterback.  

Written by Clay Travis

Clay Travis is the founder of the fastest growing national multimedia platform, OutKick, that produces and distributes engaging content across sports and pop culture to millions of fans across the country. OutKick was created by Travis in 2011 and sold to the Fox Corporation in 2021.

One of the most electrifying and outspoken personalities in the industry, Travis hosts OutKick The Show where he provides his unfiltered opinion on the most compelling headlines throughout sports, culture, and politics. He also makes regular appearances on FOX News Media as a contributor providing analysis on a variety of subjects ranging from sports news to the cultural landscape.

Additionally, Travis serves as a co-host of The Clay Travis and Buck Sexton Show, a three-hour conservative radio talk program syndicated across Premiere Networks radio stations nationwide.

Previously, he launched OutKick The Coverage on Fox Sports Radio that included interviews and listener interactions, and started an iHeartRadio Original Podcast called Wins & Losses that featured in-depth conversations with the biggest names in sports.

Travis is a graduate of George Washington University as well as Vanderbilt Law School. Based in Nashville, he is the author of Dixieland Delight, On Rocky Top, and Republicans Buy Sneakers.